Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese envisions the city as a regional athletic draw. Today, a major piece of reaching that goal is under construction.

The northern Indiana city will soon become home to a new aquatic center, featuring an Olympic-sized pool and diving, sports fields for basketball and soccer and a medical facility.

For the city, Neese expects the investment – backed by private donations and the state’s Regional Cities economic development program – to pay off.

“Once you have a facility like that, then you have five-star restaurants and hotels wanting to come to Elkhart because of it,” Neese said. “I would like to make Elkhart a regional athletic location for all kinds of sports events and competitions.”

It’s a strategic effort for the city that saw the worst of the recession and is now rebounding with a vibrant downtown decorated with public art, and new events, including the city’s first-ever Comic Con in March that drew in more than 10,000 participants.

“We had a restaurant downtown that did four times its normal business because of Comic Con,” Neese said.

And the events don’t stop at Comic Con. Elkhart also has played host to its annual Jazz Festival, a motorcycle night, a classic car show and a firefighters challenge where departments from across America traveled to the city for various competitions. After a 20-year absence, the city also brought back a popular go-kart racing event featuring 140 karters and a KISS cover band for entertainment. In its first year back, the race was already one of the top three go kart street races in the country.

“When I was campaigning, I said to the citizens that I wanted to have a cross section of events because I know not everyone likes jazz music or classic cars or Comic Con,” Neese said. “So we have tried to provide a cross section of activities in conjunction with various types of festivals.”

In addition to the events, Elkhart also is expanding housing in the city. This September, the city is expected to break ground on a mixed-use apartment community featuring 200 urban flats and five specialty townhome units with an additional 7,000 square feet of retail space. The project is the first large scale market rate apartment investment in the city’s downtown in nearly 30 years.

The city also plans to voluntarily annex about 400 acres, which could house about 1,000 new single-family homes.

“Over the years, we have not had enough housing for people,” Neese said. “We get an additional 27,000 people that come to Elkhart daily that work in this county and they go back to adjacent areas. What our goal is through this housing, as well as voluntary annexation, is to capture some of those individuals and have them become permanent residents.”

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